Tôhaku was born at Nanao in Noto province, and adopted into a Hasegawa family of cloth-dyers. After painting a number of Buddhist-influenced works in his native Noto, and the death of his adoptive parents, he moved to Kyoto around 1571 and took up residence at Kyôgôin, a sub-temple of Honpôji.
While in Kyoto, he studied under Kanô Shôei, head of the Kanô school of painting, and came to know the great tea master Sen no Rikyû, by whose introduction he was granted access to the collection of paintings at Daitokuji. The Daitokuji collection included a number of works by Japanese masters of the Muromachi period, as well as those of Chinese painters of the Song and Yuan dynasties. Works by Mu Qi, whose triptych of a crane, a monkey, and a white-robed Kannon is particularly famous, are noted as being especially influential in Tôhaku's works.
Though he worked together with members of the Kanô school in producing works for the Jurakudai in 1587, three years later, Kanô Eitoku worked to block Tôhaku from taking part in the restoration of the Imperial Palace. Eitoku's death allowed Tôhaku's popularity and prominence to grow;
He produced a volume of work over the next thirty years and in 1603 was given the title Hôkyô.
Tôhaku's paintings were done in a number of styles, from his earlier Buddhist efforts to his later, monochrome ink genpitsu tai productions. His most famous works include 'Picture of Pine Forest', 'Picture of Monkey in Dead Trees', and 'Picture of Flower and Trees'. A famous portrait of Takeda Shingen which has long defined the popular perception of Shingen is attributed to Tôhaku, though recently scholars have wondered if the subject of that work was in fact a Hatakeyama lord.
He is equally well-known and celebrated for his monochrome kanga-inspired works, and for his blue-and-gold Kanô-inspired yamato-e style works.
Tôhaku died on March 20, 1610.
- Initial text from Sengoku Biographical Dictionary (Samurai-Archives.com) FWSeal & CEWest, 2005
- Mason, Penelope. History of Japanese Art. Second Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005. pp259-263.